Gems at risk?

West-side plan: The city would not be better off if rundown area were left alone.

June 17, 1999

WHAT EXACTLY would be preserved if the city's ambitious west-side development came to a halt? Would Baltimore be better off if these half-vacant stores and offices were left intact?

That seems to be the curious position of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which has placed the west side of downtown on its list of "America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places."

It is a classic case of a well-intended but misguided effort to keep historically important buildings from being torn down. Yes, the west side of downtown once thrived as the city's bustling shopping and entertainment center. That is a fond but distant memory. What's left is a wasteland in need of a major overhaul.

Perhaps folks from the national trust weren't told that the centerpiece of this renewal effort is a $50 million revival of the old Hippodrome vaudeville theater, or that 20 architecturally significant buildings in the 18 blocks around the decaying Howard Street retail corridor must, by law, be preserved.

Yes, disputes will arise over other historical structures as the west-side building boom accelerates. But this isn't a case of an ill-conceived demolition plan. It is a thoughtful and carefully considered effort to breathe new life into a distressed downtown area with a mix of old and new.

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